Winston-Salem residents sat in rapt attention at a Town Hall-style meeting Saturday as Liberian Ambassador Jeremiah C. Sulunteh spoke about his country’s war-ridden past and the rebuilding process for the future.
Sulunteh was in Winston-Salem last week by invitation of the Liberian Organization of the Piedmont, a non-profit organization that supports community programs in Winston-Salem and Liberia.
Sulunteh said a partnership with Winston-Salem will be crucial in Liberia’s rebuilding process following the recent period of civil wars in the country.
The country has been plagued by civil wars since 1989. The Second Liberian Civil War concluded in August, 2003, but he said that the country is still recovering.
“Destroying something is so quick, but rebuilding takes a long time,” he said. “The wars killed 250,000 of our people, and hospitals and schools were burned down, destroying the fabrics of our country. Through the help of our friends in the U.S., we have been able to secure peace in Liberia.”
Sulunteh expressed the need to strengthen Winston-Salem’s existing relationship with its sister city, Buchanan in Grand Bassa County, Liberia, which he said would be advantageous for both cities.
Sister cities are formed by an agreement of cities in geographically and politically distinct areas to promote cultural and commercial ties.
Buchanan, one of five of Winston-Salem’s sister cities, has been partnered with Winston-Salem since 2011 .
“The agreement to become sister cities was signed in 2011, and now we have to exploit the potential the partnership can offer the two cites,” said James Hunder, president of the Liberian Organization of the Piedmont. “The ambassador being here can help jumpstart that process.”
Forsyth Technical Community College already has a relationship with Grand Bassa Community College, as a result of the 2011 agreement, but Sulunteh said more can be done.
He suggested creating business and educational exchange programs between the two cities and having volunteer physicians to help in the post-wars health centers in Liberia.
Sulunteh, who visited Forsyth Technical Community College and Winston-Salem State University earlier in the week, said efforts like this will help to unite the two cities and their schools.
Thirty people attended the meeting at the Goler Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church.
“I think the ambassador is on the right track with his thoughts, especially on education,” said Dr. Frank Carver, professor at Forsyth Technical Community College, who attended the meeting. “I totally agree we need to expand on education in Liberia and strike while the iron is hot to form a relationship with Forsyth Tech.”
Sulunteh said 62 percent of Liberia’s 4.1 million population is between the ages of 15 and 25, which is why pursuing educational opportunities is so important for the nation.
“Liberia is ready for investment and ready to collaborate with community colleges to fill the gaps left by the wars,” he said.
Sulunteh said the war left several problems in the country, including loss of electricity and clean water after the water and energy plants were bombed by rebels in the 1990s. Roads are also much needed.
“I have not come here to ask for aid, but to tell our story and express a need for collaboration,” he said.
Sulunteh arrived in North Carolina on Wednesday and left Saturday.
During his visit, he also addressed the N.C. House of Representatives in Raleigh.
“It is an honor to be in this state and we feel very fortunate to have a partnership with such a great city,” he said. “We’re positive that Liberia will rebound from the wars, and North Carolina can be a part of that process.”